Monday, April 27, 2015

In Reid's Words

Hello, beautiful people who spend their precious time reading the blog of some weirdos in Kenya.

My name is Reid, and today, I’ve come to the blog because many people have told me to write for the blog. Lately, I’ve been getting into writing more. My parents like to remind me that when I was younger – not too long ago – I claimed that I hated writing. I think I’ve come to realize that’s because I didn’t have enough freedom to write what I wanted and because I was – admittedly, still am – fond of not doing what people want me to do.

Kenya provoked in me more of a writing nature because I was being exposed to things that I hadn’t really spent quality time thinking about. I was also pretty sad in the beginning. And just in case you’ve never been sad, being sad brings out a very thoughtful, sometimes writing prone self that you never knew existed. So that’s what happened.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park 
And nowadays, I write a lot. Ranging from the funny situations on the bus to the things that make me cry when I have idle time. I’ve written about fear and I’ve written about looking out the window when it’s raining. I’ve written about colorfully clad Kenyan women carrying their weight in vegetables. And writing, as much as I never wanted to admit it, is helpful. When I cry, I try to cry words. When you cry words, tears don’t just fall to the ground, they fall onto paper and I try to turn them into something beautiful. When you’re happy, words flow out of your body just like tears, but they are rays of light. Words have the power to change a lot of things. Because I’ve written about stunningly strong, vibrant women, you all can see them in your mind. Because I’ve written about fear, we can talk about fear. Because, as Yann Martel says, “You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” I think the same is true for most things: we must shine the light of words on them.

Rift Valley (photo credit, Uncle Jeff Phillips)
So, what am I talking about? I’m not quite sure, actually. I wanted to share thoughts with all of you (however many of you there are…). I wanted to share a bit of my life thus far, because as it happens, writing has become a big part of that. So, here are two of my poems. The first is a sonnet, written because it was assigned by my English teacher: written in a tent after playing in a Jazz concert. I have come to love it, though, because it is true and because home is HARD. The second is a free verse written because I have been exploring and tackling the idea that we are all beautiful in a unique way. I have come to believe in my unique beauty these past couple years and I want everybody to believe in their own. I hope you enjoy these poems and I hope reading this post has been a somewhat useful use of your precious time.

Nichol Creek, Brevard NC


I amble beside a shimmering creek.
Along the trail, on far-reaching roots,
A red robin rests with an open beak.
The leaves crackle and crunch under my boots;
My walking companion, Bean,
Trots contentedly on the path,
Paw prints never to be seen
Again, in the mud. Aftermath,
Of late season showers.
The evening light filters through the trees;
The darkness of the night cowers.
Fresh air always frees.
I know, as far as I roam,
This shimmering creek will always feel like home.


take a moment
                 yeah You.
See the way
he shuffles his feet
See the way
she braids her hair
how can we deny
                        "you are beautiful"
how can we not acknowledge
            your Soul shines
through the calloused layers of unloved skin
Making You a Beacon
of Much-Needed Light
to those around you.

A ton of love, Reid

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


It has been a difficult few days in Kenya. The siege and killings in Garissa in Northeast Kenya have been difficult for many to even contemplate. I talked to at least two friends today who essentially decided to spend their Easter weekend on news black-out, and I resonate with that inability to simultaneously experience fear, grief, horror, and sympathy, and to continue interacting with the world around us.

I had written a bit of this blog post last week, and in the spirit of continued interaction and a search for beauty in this world, I’ve finished it and will share. It focuses on our work with various community organizations and MCC staff.

Community work often involves reflection in a group setting to identify a community’s or organization’s assets, needs, and vision. During the last 6 months of work in Kenya, we have been involved in strategic planning within MCC and organizational visioning, training, and long-term planning with some of our partner organizations. As Selena and I were preparing to lead one of these sessions we found a guided poetry writing exercise and decided to try it.

The MCC Kenya staff played along with our unconventional opening to the day’s planning session, and voila, thirty minutes later, they each had written a poem. This group of Kenyan and North American community development workers seemed both surprised and pleased at the chance to read aloud a poem; for most ,it was the first one they had ever written.

The form is called pantoum, a centuries-old folk poem, for recitation or singing, and that involves a pattern of repeated lines. It is interesting to observe the placement of lines from earlier in the poem next to other lines later in the poem and to uncover new meanings from the arrangement.

Accessing these feelings and these other ways of thinking and imaging has been a wonderful and useful way to begin some of our trainings or planning meetings. It has been a meaningful and empowering reminder to MCC partners and staff that we all have beauty and wisdom to share.

While I was participating in a workshop a couple weeks ago the leader had us envision a time of being at peace or a time when all problems in our organization, family, church, or community were resolved. She then prompted us to write each line and led us through all of the twenty lines. The resulting poem, as an example, is below. Enjoy, and maybe give a try at distilling some of your thoughts and feelings in poetry. Shalom! Rand


Into the cool pond on a sunny day
We have come to the cottage by the sea
I see water and sky and signs of simple living
The kids are playing, Selena is reading, and that is all

Visiting the cottage
Wholeness and peacefulness come to us
Swimming, playing, reading, and that’s all
The only thoughts are of the present

Wholeness and peacefulness come to us
Easily I see the good that is my true self
The only thoughts are of the present
It is not careless apathy for what has been or will be

I see easily the good that is my true self
Capable and sufficient, without guile or envy
Not considering what has been or will be
Things are in their places

Capable and sufficient, without guile or envy
I see water and sky and signs of simple living
Things are in their places
Entering the cool pond on a sunny day

Sunday, November 30, 2014

If Mary were Maasai

Happy Advent: Come, Lord Jesus, come!
For this blog, we are posting an article that our colleague, Corinna ClymerOlson wrote for The Mennonite World Review. It's beautifully written and demonstrates the type of folks we get to work with by being with MCC. Corinna and Doug live in a small village, Najile, in Kajiado County. It's not far, geographically, from Nairobi, but a world apart from us and the experience we have in Nairobi. It's not an easy assignment, but Doug and Corinna have put their hearts, minds, and bodies into their work. 
When I read Luke 2, I don’t need much imagination these days.
ClymerOlson holds the new baby.
ClymerOlson holds the new baby.
It says, “and there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night” and I picture my neighbor kids that are always pushing the goats around with their whistling and their engudi (herding stick) on the other side of our fence, or singing at the top of their lungs or arguing with their siblings to pass the time out in the bush. Or, I picture some of the mamas next door. Nalotuesha or Helen out in the bush for the day to watch the cows or goats, her tatteredshuka pulled up over her head because it’s too hot to wear it around her shoulders, her feet white with the dust.
And when I read that Mary rode on a donkey (for hours or days?) on the day before she had her first baby, I picture Nalamai, my neighbor happily bending in half (despite my offering her a stool) for an hour or more to do my laundry by hand out in the backyard just a week before her baby came. She didn’t know when it was coming — just that is would come when it came. I see her lumbering along, her wraps flowing around her lovely, nearly full-term form with her plastic yellow 20-liter jerry can full of water (about five gallons). The strap runs across her forehead then wraps around the girth of the plastic container hanging across her back, the weight falling on her head and neck. She is slightly bent forward with the weight, her hands holding the strap next to her ears.
I picture the herds of donkeys with the black stripe on their necks that we see roaming alone through the bush (rarely do we see them doing much work), meandering across the road in front of our car. We gladly shout “get your ass off the road!” and then giggle. It never gets old. Or maybe it’s us who never grow up.
Then there’s Mary and her nonexistent birth plan. Babies just happen with the Maasai, too. The cows and goats are close. The goat kids and calves are kept inside the hut at night. The hut is made of dung, mud and ash and the birthing takes place in the darkness of the inside — on the low cow-hide shelf that is the bed. No running water, no indoor plumbing, no hot shower. Emergency services are nonexistent here and life and death rest in the hands of God.
My friend Nalamai had her baby on Monday, three days ago. I went to visit to take some food and found everyone excited and eager to take me to the mama. Helen fell into step with me as I approached the manyatta. We exchanged greetings and I pulled out the 200 Kenya Shillings that I owed her for washing my clothes in place of Nalamai the day before. She led me to Nalamai’s hut, I stooped and followed her into the darkness of the inside.
As the happy chatter of Kokoo (grandma), Helen, Nalamai and two other visiting friends, Lois and Paulina, surrounded me, I marveled at this young woman who had just birthed her sixth baby. No one really knows her age, but its somewhere mid-20s and she is strong as an ox, both in body and in spirit. She must have been early teens when she was married as a second wife and started her successful baby-having career. She easily holds favorite wife status with her commanding presence and voice, her beautiful smile and her easy laugh. She’s smart as a whip, bossy, too and doesn’t miss a trick. A pride welled in me to call her my friend, a warmth of affection for this brave and cheerful woman. I hear her interpreting my clumsy words for the others since she’s the one who understands my halting Maa more than anyone because she comes by my house so often.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness of the house interior. The boy baby was tiny, pale skinned with dark curls. He was wrapped in a cotton cloth, no diapers to speak of; a faint smell of urine and baby mixed in my nostrils. His eyes opened briefly, then closed again, not too upset by the change of position as he was passed into my arms. I heard the mama say to her friend, “does she know how?” I have no children so why wouldn’t she ask this question?
They probably have not had the milky tea, a staple, for weeks and maybe over a month. Cows stop producing milk when the grass is completely gone from drought, Even so, they insisted, despite my emphatic protests, on my staying and sharing a tin cup of shai made of the rehydrated powdered milk I had just brought. I poured the hot tea from one cup to the another in the traditional cooling technique, sipping between pours. Sweat dripped slowly down my belly, the warmth of the hut close. The dim light from the 5-inch window hole revealed the beads on Helen’s brow, too. She fanned her shirt. A trail of cockroaches crawled in silhouette along the stick that formed the cup shelf next to the light hole.
As I walked home, I thought of Mary. She didn’t have other mamas or Kokoo around her at her birthing and she was far from home. But, besides that, there was a lot in common between the birth of Jesus and the birth of Nalamai’s baby.
” … And all the shepherds came crowding into the dark little place where the mama and the baby were hanging out with the cows and goats, praising God.” Mesisi Yesu.
Corinna Clymer and her husband, are in the midst of a three-year assignment with Mennonite Central Committee in Najile, Kenya. She blogs at where this post first appeared.